Business incubator brings healthcare provider to Concrete

By Chazlyn Lovely
Edited by Katy Tomasulo

New businesses will get a boost from Town of Concrete thanks to an unused building, a chance encounter, and an idea generated by the Economic Development Task Force.

The business incubator project aims to help new and growing companies by reducing operating costs so that the business has one less obstacle on the path to success.

For example, Dr. Brianna Wilson’s new direct primary healthcare clinic, Thrive Direct Health Care, will pay Town of Concrete $1 per month to rent suites B and C of the old police station on the east end of Town Center, plus $290 in utility fees for the first year. After that, she will pay the market rate, $650 a month. This will allow Wilson to minimize her overhead costs while utilizing a space that would otherwise sit vacant.

The idea of a business incubator had been included in the town’s Economic Development Plan, but the project really began to take shape when Economic Development Task Force Chair Eric Archuletta met Wilson and learned about her desire to expand Thrive Direct from its current single branch in La Conner. After talks with Mayor Jason Miller, Archuletta, the Economic Development Commission, and Concrete Town Council, Wilson accepted the offer to join the program.

Mayor Miller, alongside a crew of volunteers from the community, prepped the space so that it would be ready for Wilson by May 1.

“Some people are surprised we’re using the old police station/fire hall for this; they thought the building had been condemned, but that’s not true. Nor is it true that we were supposed to demolish it,” said Miller. “If we had secured FEMA funds for the new fire hall, that may have been different, but that is not the case here. So, while the old police station/fire hall has outlived its usefulness as a public safety building, it still has plenty of years left in it for less-intensive uses, such as a business incubator.”

Suites B and C are occupied by Thrive Direct Health Care; suite A will be examined for feasibility for other potential businesses after Wilson and her patients have settled in. One of the goals for the incubator is to have a revolving door of businesses in the space—get them on their feet, stable, and able to find their permanent homes so to speak, so that other businesses can enter the program and begin the process as well. “The best-case scenario,” says Miller, “is for each business startup that uses the incubator space to leave it after three years. This would free it up for the next startup.”

When space becomes available, potential businesses interested in the program will have to submit a business plan and be vetted. “We really liked Dr. Wilson as a first-time incubator applicant because she has an existing business in La Conner that she’s trying to expand,” said Miller. “That’s a whole lot different than someone who comes to the town saying, ‘You know what I think would be cool?’ Dr. Wilson had a business plan already in place and five years of proven success.”

The incubator program and the town’s generosity were key factors in Wilson’s decision—and financial ability—to bring her business to Concrete. She also acknowledges how vital her practice will be for the town’s rural location. “There are so many people without healthcare [here], and especially when you’re so isolated, it’s more difficult to be seen quickly.”
In that way, Wilson’s practice and the Town of Concrete’s business incubator share a similar goal—making access and opportunity more affordable.

A successful business model
“The direct primary care model has been around since the 1990s,” said Wilson. “It brings back the old idea of the town doctor—more of a family-friendly kind of doctor. A lot of us who use this model do house calls, and it’s affordable.”

Patients can pay a monthly “access” or membership fee, which varies from clinic to clinic. Thrive Direct charges $25 to $60 per month depending on the membership; doing this allows the clinic to avoid co-pays or other fees on the average visit. (There are additional add-ons that may cost extra.) Perks to membership include unlimited office visits, phone and e-mail access directly to Wilson, free annual screening lab work, free flu shots, no extra fees for small in-office procedures such as sutures, home sleep tests for sleep apnea, EKGs, and much more time with the doctor in order to form a relationship built on trust and a complete understanding of the patient’s health.

“You really have time to get to the root cause of a lot of diseases and illnesses, and spend more time with education and more time coming up with a plan and helping the patient to be self-managed so that they can take more responsibility for their health,” said Wilson, adding that this model has “proven to decrease hospitalizations and ER admissions and have good outcomes. We’re able to get better numbers and lab values faster, because we have that extra communication.”

For those uncertain about the membership model, there are other perks. Thrive Direct is less of a pure direct primary care system—it’s what Wilson calls a “hybrid-DPC”—and some aspects of care can be billed to Medicare Part B. Other perks include walk-in office visits for nonmembers, truck driver CDL exams, and sports physicals for school children. The clinic will have its own small pharmacy; blood for lab work can be drawn at the clinic and sent to a lab company with which Wilson contracts, so prices are less expensive. There will be pricing for both members and nonmembers.

Wilson is eager to move into the new space and start meeting the community. “I always knew I wanted to be a small-town doctor—to own my own practice and be able to not only be a business in the community, but to be a part of a community. [In the past] I took on a lot of extracurricular activities with schools or the Chamber of Commerce, so I’m actually more in the community versus just a part of it.”

Wilson’s goal is to have a patient load of 400 adult members between the Concrete and La Conner locations. In the future, she’d like to consider opening more locations and bringing in other healthcare providers, doctors, and nurse practitioners, and even naturopaths.

For people interested in the town’s business incubator, Town Hall is the best place to inquire. Those looking to become members of Thrive Direct Health Care can visit and fill out the contact form on the site.

Wilson will host an open house in the space, located at 7337 N. Dillard, Suites B and C, on Mon., May 13, from noon to 4 p.m. Her office hours will be Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with televisits available for other days.

Freelance writer Chazlyn Lovely lives in Corkindale.
Editor Katy Tomasulo lives on Bainbridge Island.

©2013. All rights reserved.